A Conversation with Cynthia Ozick
In lieu of a traditional biography, it is our pleasure to include this citation. Composed by Jacques Berlinerblau, this text was read at the ceremony to confer upon Ms. Ozick the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa on Tuesday, February 20, 2007.
“WHAT A CURIOSIT Y IT WAS TO HOLD A PEN,” remarks the narrator of Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, “nothing but a small pointed stick, after all, oozing its hieroglyphic puddles.” Across five decades of fiction, literary criticism and cultural commentary,Ms. Ozick has produced anything but hieroglyphic puddles. Her style is sober, elegant, rational, geometrically flawless. It is the exquisite orderliness of her writing that permits her to clearly convey moral and aesthetic visions that excel in complexity and creativity. These have established her as among the most inspired, and even volatile, imaginers in modern American letters. One day we will surely employ the adjective “Ozickian.” It will denote an author’s ability to confront the most Byzantine, hieratic, human passions, the most insoluble individual and cultural contradictions, through preternaturally precise prose. One thinks, for example, of the Hassidic rebbe in “Bloodshed” who proclaims to a gun-toting secular co-religionist: Sometimes …even the rebbe does not believe. My father when he was the rebbe also sometimes did not believe. It is characteristic of believers sometimes not to believe. And it is characteristic of unbelievers to believe. Even you,Mister Bleilip—even you now and then believe in theHoly One, Blessed BeHe?” Cynthia Ozick, child of the Bronx: daughter of the Lithuanian immigrants, Celia andWilliam Ozick: graduate of New York University and then Ohio State University where she received herMasters in English Literature. Cynthia Ozick, heiress of the treasury of the Jewish and Anglo-American literary tradition. Her encounter with the former has resulted in some of most remarkable fiction ever produced in the Diaspora. In her 1966 “The Pagan Rabbi” a Talmudic
scholar contemplates—and by his eventual suicide seems to confirm—the Mishnaic adage that one who.... read full paper